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BULLETIN OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART 



portation was more successful than we had 
dared to hope. 

On arrival here it was necessary to join 
the two fragments, which fitted exactly; 
the cut was filled in as well as the different 
places where the original plaster had 
dropped off, and the irregular shape was 
straightened out to a perfect square. 
Instead of covering the restored parts 




FRESCO, CHINESE 
FROM A TOMB ENTRANCE 

with a neutral tint, it was considered an 
advantage to retrace the lines where miss- 
ing, and to fill them in with color in order 
to get as much as possible the effect of the 
original painting. The restoration was 
done, however, in a line technique entirely 
different from the original painting, in 
consequence easily distinguished, and in 
water colors which a sponge can remove 
at any time. 

The style of the ornament on the stones 
is of the Wei period, that is, about the 



sixth century; it is very interesting and 
unusual, free and flowing as the decorations 
of the period of the Six Dynasties are, 
evidently the product of a high civilization 
the origin of which is as yet not clear. 
The stone dates the Buddhistic fresco, 
it is very different from the paintings of 
Ajunta, is nearer to those found by Sir 
Aurel Stein in Kotan, and still more like 
the frescoes found near Turfan in the 
north of the Province of Sinkiang by A. 
von Lecoq. This style of Buddhistic and 
Manichaean painting seems to have been 
general all over northern China and is 
closely connected with the frescoes on the 
walls of the Corean tombs near Chinampo 
and the frescoes of Horiuji in Nara, Japan. 
While in all these places the later Buddhis- 
tic painting developed in a very different 
style, the Coreans in their hermit kingdom 
seem to have stuck in most conservative 
fashion to the early style; paintings of the 
end of the Korai period, fourteenth cen- 
tury, and even later Corean paintings 
show intimate relation with our sixth- 
century Chinese fresco. 

S. C. B. R. 

A RELIQUARY OF SAINT 

THOMAS BECKET MADE FOR 

JOHN OF SALISBURY 

WlLL no man free me from this pes- 
tilent priest?" cried Henry II of Eng- 
land — so, at least, runs the story — in hot 
anger at Thomas Becket, Archbishop of 
Canterbury. Perhaps rhetorical ques- 
tions were not common at Henry's court. 
In any case, four knights sped off to Can- 
terbury, and there, in his own cathedral, 
murdered the Primate of England. This 
was in 1170. Three years later, the mar- 
tyred archbishop was canonized. 

Saint Thomas Becket was born at Lon- 
don, about the year 11 18. His stormy 
career commenced peacefully enough, when 
as a well-educated youth of some twenty- 
three years he entered the service of Arch- 
bishop Theobald of Canterbury. The 
archbishop recognized Becket's ability by 
employing him in many delicate negotia- 
tions and by bestowing upon him several 
preferments, the most important of which 



220 



BULLETIN OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART 



was the archdeaconship of Canterbury. 
Greater honors soon followed. In 1155, 
King Henry II appointed Becket High 
Chancellor of England, in which capacity 
he showed himself both capable and loyal — 
a combination duly appreciated by his 
sovereign. Archbishop Theobald died in 
1 161. The following year, through the 
influence of the King, Becket was elected 
Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Becket, now primate of England as well 
as chancellor, had not sought his new 
office, but had yielded only to the King's 
insistence. Henry did not look with 
favor upon the growing independence of 
the church. Yet a conflict between church 
and state was a serious matter, and Henry 
may well have wished a friend at church as 
well as "at court." He thought to secure 
this, it would seem, by the election of his 
chancellor to the archbishopric of Canter- 
bury, the highest position in the English 
church. But if Henry counted upon 
Thomas Becket to be his partisan in mat- 
ters ecclesiastic, he was speedily disap- 
pointed. 

Becket resigned the chancellorship, and 
gave himself whole-heartedly to his new 
responsibilities. In Tennyson's drama 
Becket says: 

" I served our Theobald well when I was 
with him; 
I served King Henry well as Chancellor; 
I am his no more, and I must serve the 
Church." 

Asceticism replaced the magnificence of 
his former life at court. The King's hos- 
tility he soon incurred by his zealous de- 
fense of the prerogatives of the Church. 
Matters came to a head when Henry re- 
quired the assent of the bishops to the 
"Constitutions of Clarendon," a compila- 
tion of certain ancient laws and customs, 
according to the King's assertion, which 
restricted the authority of the Church. 
The Constitutions forced the issue between 
crown and mitre. After some vacillation, 
Becket determined upon an attitude of 
uncompromising resistance, and refused 
to sign. Bitterly persecuted by the King, 
Becket was compelled to flee secretly from 
England in 1 164. 



Saint Thomas took refuge in France, 
where he was received both by King Louis 
VII and by Pope Alexander III, who was 
then at Sens. For several years, negotia- 
tions went on between king, pope, and 
archbishop, but it was not until 11 70 that 
some kind of a reconciliation was patched 
up, and Saint Thomas returned to England. 

During Becket's absence in France, 
Henry had had his son crowned by the 
Archbishop of York. According to cus- 
tom and law, the ceremony should have 
been performed by the Archbishop of Can- 
terbury as primate. Becket obtained 
from the Pope the excommunication of 
the Bishops of London and of Salisbury, 
who had taken part in the coronation, and 
the suspension of the Archbishop of York. 
Upon his landing in England, Becket re- 
fused to absolve the bishops, even at the 
request of the King. It is supposed this 
refusal was the immediate cause of his 
murder. How far Henry was directly 
responsible for the tragedy, which occurred 
on December 29, 11 70, has never been de- 
termined, but he at least did penance at the 
martyr's tomb. In 1220 the bones of 
Saint Thomas Becket were raised from the 
crypt where they had been buried the day 
after his murder, and by order of King 
Henry III were deposited in a splendid 
shrine which became one of the most popu- 
lar objects of pilgrimages during the 
Middle Ages. 

Saint Thomas was attended at the time 
of his assassination by his cross-bearer, 
Edward Grim, and by his secretary, John 
of Salisbury. The latter stood so close 
to his friend and master that he was 
spattered with the martyr's blood. Some 
drops of this he collected in two vials 
which, later on, he gave to the cathedral 
of Chartres. 1 John of Salisbury had been 
Archbishop Theobald's secretary as well 
as Becket's. He was one of the most 
cultured scholars of his day, distinguished 
both as a scholastic writer and as a diplo- 
matist. After Becket's death, he re- 
mained at Canterbury until 1174, when he 
was appointed treasurer of Exeter Cathe- 

^artulaire de Notre-Dame de Chartres, 1. 1 1 1, 
p. 201. Quoted by E. Male: L'art religieux du 
XIII siecle, p. 378, note. 



221 



BULLETIN OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART 



dral. Two years later, in 1176, he was 
made Bishop of Chartres. He died in 
1 180, having been active during his episco- 
pate in spreading the cult of the sainted 
martyr, whose blood, through John's gift, 
was treasured at Chartres. Evidence of 
the esteem in which the relic was held is 
afforded by one of the large stained glass 
windows in the cathedral. This important 
window, with scenes from the life of Saint 
Thomas Becket, was given to the church 
in the early part of the thirteenth century 
by the Tanners, but as Saint Thomas 
Becket was not the patron saint of tanners, 
the choice of subject was evidently due to 
a desire to honor the precious relic which 
the church possessed. 

In the Pierpont Morgan Collection there 
is a small reliquary of silver gilt with 
niello decoration, which, to judge from an 
inscription on the box, once contained 
some of the blood of Saint Thomas Becket. 
I hope to show that this reliquary l was 
made for John of Salisbury, sometime 
between 11 74 and 1176, when he was 
treasurer of Exeter, presumably to hold 
the two vials of the blood of Saint Thomas. 
Whether this was the reliquary presented 
to Chartres, I can not say. Very possibly 
it was, although a new reliquary may have 
been made later to receive the relic. 
Today there is no reliquary of Saint 
Thomas Becket at Chartres. During 
the French Revolution, the treasury of 
Chartres was pillaged, and the reliquary 
may have disappeared then, or even earlier, 
since the church had suffered previous 
depredations. It would be interesting 
to be able to prove that the Morgan reli- 
quary once formed part of the famous 

illustrated and briefly described in the 
Catalogue of the Collection of Jewels and 
Precious Works of Art, the Property of J. Pier- 
pont Morgan, by G. C. Williamson. The in- 
scription on the back panel of the box is in- 
correctly transcribed and the bearers of St. 
Thomas' body are not identified. Mr. William- 
son assigns the reliquary to French (?) workman- 
ship of the beginning of the thirteenth century. 
No information as to the previous history of the 
reliquary is given, save that it figured in the sale 
of the collection of M Louis Germeau, Paris, 
1905. The sale catalogue offers no further 
particulars, although the piece is there correctly 
assigned to the twelfth century. 



treasure of Chartres, but it is perhaps 
sufficient honor to have in our collections 
so beautiful an example of twelfth-century 
craftsmanship and one which through its 
associations and closely approximated 
date is of such exceptional interest. 2 

The Morgan reliquary is a small oblong 
box with a pyramidal cover surmounted 
by a large ruby. The cover is hinged, and, 
although there is no lock, can be fastened 
by a cord passing through the tongue and 
staples on the front of the box and the two 
"ears" on either side of the ruby. The 
entire height of the coffer is 2% inches; 
the height of the box alone, i-J- inches; 
the length, 2f inches; and the width, if 
inches. It is important to note that inside 
the box there was originally a thin par- 
tition, of which only traces now remain, 
dividing it into two equal parts. This 
contributes to our belief that the box was 
designed to hold the two vials of John of 
Salisbury. 

The reliquary is made of silver, parcel 
gilt, and decorated with designs in niello. 
The designs are engraved on the silver 
and the incisions filled in with a black 
"enamel" or composition of silver, lead, 
copper, and sulphur. Benvenuto Cellini's 
treatise on the goldsmith's art may be 
consulted for an extended description of 
the technique of niello. 

The front panel of the box shows the 
assassination of the saint. At the right 
are three knights, wearing hauberks of 
mail or scale armor; two of them carry 
swords. These knights are Reginald Fitz- 
urse, William de Tracy, and Richard le 
Bret. The fourth knight, Hugh de More- 
ville, held the entrance to the transept of 
the cathedral during the murder, and for 
this reason is not represented with the 
others. One of the knights has just struck 
Saint Thomas on the head with his sword. 
The inscription reads, s. tomas. occidit 
(Saint Thomas dies). On the front of the 
cover, above this scene, an angel is repre- 
sented holding a cross and bending over 
with hand raised in blessing as if to en- 
courage Saint Thomas. 

The burial of the saint is pictured on 

2 The reliquary is exhibited in a floor case, 
Gallery 3, the Pierpont Morgan Wing. 



BULLETIN OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART 



the back of the box. Two monks support 
the body of the martyr. The principal 
inscription reads, sanguis, e. s. tom (Blood 
from St. Thomas). 

Above the monk at the right, and separ- 
ated from the main inscription by the head 
of Saint Thomas, is a small letter E. 
This I take to be the initial letter of the 
name of Edward Grim, one of the witnesses, 
it will be remembered, of the saint's mar- 
tyrdom. If this is correct, the bearer 
supporting the head of Saint Thomas may 
thus be identified as Edward Grim. 



Chartres, the probability is that the reli- 
quary was made to his order, and when he 
was treasurer of Exeter, between 1 174 and 
1 176. 

Continuing the description, we may note 
on the cover, above the scene just des- 
cribed, an angel who carries in his arms the 
soul of the martyr figured as a nude child. 
On each short side of the box an angel is 
represented. The corresponding sides of 
the cover are decorated with balanced 
designs of leaves and flowers. 

What was the nationality of the artist? 









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RELIQUARY OF ST. THOMAS BECKET 
SILVER WITH NIELLO DECORATION 



The other bearer 1 wish to identify as 
John of Salisbury on the evidence of an 
inscription placed to the left of the figure 
and separate from the main lettering. 
The inscription, unfortunately somewhat 
injured, is composed of the letter I followed 
by a sign of contraction and a small letter 
T. This, I believe, is an abbreviation for 
Iohannes Tesserarius, or John (of Salis- 
bury), Treasurer (of Exeter). It is reason- 
able to assume, since the artist has given 
prominence to the two clerics and taken 
pains to identify them, that the reliquary 
was made either for Edward Grim or for 
John of Salisbury. Since the reliquary 
appears to have been designed to contain 
the two vials which we know John of 
Salisbury possessed and later gave to 



Surviving examples of the orfevrerie of 
the twelfth century are not plentiful at 
best, and the niello work of this period is 
extremely rare, so that a lack of material 
for comparison makes the question most 
difficult to answer. But the vigorous 
quality of the drawing, the fine sense of 
form and decoration which this reliquary 
exhibits, warrant at least a tentative as- 
signment to the French school. 

To those interested in the life of the 
martyred archbishop of Canterbury, this 
little reliquary will not fail to appeal 
through its historical and religious associa- 
tions. But there are many who know 
nothing of Saint Thomas Becket, and to 
whom these associations are consequently 
meaningless. This is no hindrance., how- 



223 



BULLETIN OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART 



ever, to the full enjoyment of the beauty of 
form and decoration which this reliquary 
to an unusual degree exhibits. The appre- 
ciation of so remarkable a masterpiece of 
decorative art does not depend on one's 
knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of me- 
diaeval history; it is a matter of sensitive- 
ness to aesthetic values. 

If we examine the reliquary from this 
point of view, our first delight, perhaps, 
will be in its simple and well-proportioned 
form. The pyramidal cover, with gently 
sloping lines, gives variety to the severe, 
rectangular mass of the box. Its shape, 
moreover, is admirably chosen for the 
effective display of the large ruby which 
crests the cover and receives this promi- 
nence not only because its glowing color 
offers a brilliant contrast to the black and 
silver of the niello, but also because it is 
an obvious symbol of the precious relic of 
Saint Thomas. The form of the reliquary 
is emphasized and its surfaces enriched 
by the narrow beading which outlines the 
different parts. 

Niello decoration appears to good effect 
on such small objects as this coffer. Ena- 
meled in black on silver, the designs are 
clearly seen, yet do not appear fixed and 
monotonous because of the "liveliness" 
due to the play of light. The artist to 



whom we owe the Becket reliquary shows 
himself a master of the technique of niello, 
using a firm line and bold contrasts, without 
fussiness or unnecessary elaborations. 

As to the designs themselves, the figures 
and inscriptions are skilfully placed within 
the fields at the artist's disposal, and the 
scale is well suited to the proportions of the 
box. The two cover designs with floral 
and foliage motives are particularly 
beautiful. The drawing of the figures is 
abstract, but informed with life. These 
simplifications of form and movement, 
while they represent a wide departure 
from the photographic accuracy so often 
mistaken by the ignorant for good drawing, 
have enabled the artist to tell the story 
of Saint Thomas with forcible directness. 
No time is wasted over unessentials. 
Three armored knights do to death a 
venerable bishop; two monks carry off the 
body; angels attend and receive the mar- 
tyr's soul. If for nothing else, this reli- 
quary would be interesting as an example 
of economy of means in narration. But 
in addition to this quality of vivid illustra- 
tion, the artist has achieved beauties of 
form and line quite independent of repre- 
sentation, which amply reward our in- 
spection. 

J. B. 




RELIQUARY, SILVER AND NIELLO 

PANEL SHOWING THE BURIAL 

OF ST. THOMAS BECKET 



224